What is a Rankshifted Clause?

English Lesson Notes for Junior Secondary

What is a Rankshifted Clause?

What is a Rankshifted Clause?
Have you heard of rankshifted clause or rankshifting  in English? If you haven't, relax. In this article, I will be telling you the meaning of rankshifted clause with examples. Let's cruise!

The concept of rankshifting is very important because this is where people make errors in analyzing a sentence. If you have a clause being part of another clause, then the clause is termed to be rankshifted. In other words, a rankshifted clause functions as an element of structure in another clause.Unlike phrases, a clause is a group words with a subject and predicate.

Before I give examples, let's look at the grammatical rank scales in a hierarchical order:

5. Sentence
3. Phrase/group
2. Word
1. Morpheme.

In the grammatical rank scale, 'the sentence' is the highest, followed by the clause, phrase, word and morpheme.

If a group of words that can function as a sentence, assumes the position of a clause in another sentence, that group of word is called a rankshifted clause because it has shifted in its rank. That is, from being a sentence to being a clause. The symbol used in indicating that a clause has shifted in its rank is [[  ]].

Examples of rankshifted clause
       S.         P.                        C
1. //I /don't know [[what is happening here]]//

'What is happening here' can function independently as an interrogative sentence. e.g. what is happening here?

However, in the sentence above, it is used as a clause in a sentence, functioning as the complement of the sentence. Therefore, it is a rankshifted clause.  There is a shift in its rank (from a sentence to a clause).

             S.                                                       P
2. //The boy [[who came late today]]/ was flogged.//

Same is applicable in example 2 above. 'Who came late today' can independently stand as an interrogative sentence, but in the sentence above, it has shifted in its rank by being a clause (an adjectival clause) in the sentence and functioning as a part of the subject of the same sentence. “The boy who came late today” is the subject of the sentence, and this subject is a nominal group – MHQ (Modifier, Headword, Qualifier) type of nominal group. “The” is the modifier; “boy” is the headword, and “who came late today” is the qualifier. From this analysis, you can see that “who came late today”, which is adjectival clause, is functioning as a qualifier in a nominal group. This clause has shifted in its rank once again. 

A clause can also be rankshifted  to function as adjunct.
      S.        P.         A1.               A2
//He /came in /here /[[putting his hands in his pocket]]//

'Putting his hands in his pocket' is another rankshifted  clause in the example above.
You can also have a rankshifted clause in both subject and complement positions.
                        S.                              P.            C
//[[What happened to the baby]]/is /[[what the police are investigating]]//

'What happened to the baby' and 'what the police are investigating' are rankshifted clauses. They left their actual ranks in order to function as subject and complement of the sentence respectively.

In sum, if a clause functions as an element of structure in sentence, clause or phrase, it is called a rankshifted clause.